It’s obviously early days yet, but those pre-season predictions writing Chelsea off look quite silly indeed now after a terrific start made by new manager Maurizio Sarri at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues have played some superb football and sit joint-stop of the Premier League alongside Manchester City and Liverpool.
Even managing to score three more goals than their rivals in red, whom supposedly had the front three to end all front threes in Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino.
That just goes to show how quickly things can easily change in football, with the obsessively innovation nature of some modern managers at the highest level.
Which means a change to the man in dugout doesn’t mean a different man in a tracksuit barking out orders to his players, but a complete overhaul of the way every single member of the squad player plays.
No club other than Chelsea illustrates this better – with Antonio Conte having a similarly transformative effect at the club some few years ago.
Taking largely the same group of players that had finished 10th, demoralized and directionless under a combination of Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink in 2015/2016.
To runaway champions playing in a stylish 3-4-3 system that no one else in the league knew how to handle just 12 months later.
Then the same thing happened again – Conte’s method went stale, players got fed up and the Blues finished 5th after a disastrous run of just three league wins, five defeats and three draws between new year’s day and mid-April.
Now, the team is doing awesome once again, with Sarri very quickly implementing a possession-based game on a par with Manchester City and Barcelona at their best.
Meanwhile it’s harsh to point out how some pundits saw this coming, but it feels as though some of the old heads still commentating on the game haven’t quite caught up.
Three Chelsea prediction that look very silly now
‘I look at Chelsea and it’s just a mess, isn’t it? The whole thing,’ said your grumpy old Uncle Mark Lawrenson as eloquently as ever on BBC Sport.
‘What Sarri saw in the Community Shield (defeat on Man City) will have brought to his notice about what his players are capable of, in terms of fitting into his system or reaching the required standards.
‘He has issues to tackle right through his team and, with Thursday being the transfer deadline for incoming players.
‘There is not much time to decide whether to address them in the transfer market,’ said Mathew Upson after watching Chelsea’s first game under Sarri in the same BBC Sport season preview.
‘It is very much an unknown quantity in Sarri and you never quite know how it will be going at Chelsea, it could go one of two ways.
‘But with Sarri trying to change the structure of the team, it will definitely take time,’ said Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith, who made a perdition on the west London side as finishing 6th in his pre-season final time table prediction.
One problem remains for Maurizio Sarri
To Gary Neville’s credit, he saw a little more in Chelsea than most others in his predictions on Sky Sports,
He pointed out the one area of genuine weakness in this squad they supposedly should have to address in the transfer market.
‘Chelsea look like they are moving,’ he said.
‘They have been a little slow in the transfer market and a little bit less clear in the transfer market over the last few years than they have been previously.
‘It looks like they are making a move again.
‘To win the league, they have to keep Eden Hazard and get a center-forward. Alvaro Morata is a good player but I think about the void left by Diego Costa.
‘If they are going to play a single striker, which they historically have, then they need another one.’
There’s no doubt that in Morata and Giroud Chelsea look as a weak as almost any team in the league upfront, which sounds as a far cry from the days of Diego Costa, Drogba and even Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
It’s an old cliche that you can’t win the Premier League without a top striker, but has that historically been the case, and what does such statement even really mean anyway? We took a little look.
Premier League winners and top scorers since 1992/93
Because football only started in 1992, we thought we’d flash back to the dawn of the beautiful game and take a look at who finished with the most goals for every title-winning team:
92/93 – Man Utd – Mark Hughes (15 goals)
93/94 – Man Utd – Eric Cantona (18)
95/95 – Blackburn – Alan Shearer (34)
95/96 – Man Utd – Eric Cantona (14)
96/97 – Man Utd – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (18)
97/98 – Arsenal – Dennis Bergkamp (16)
98/99 – Man Utd – Dwight Yorke (18)
99/00 – Man Utd – Dwight Yorke (20)
00/01 – Man Utd – Teddy Sheringham (15)
01/02 – Arsenal – Thierry Henry (24)
02/03 – Man Utd – Ruud van Nistelrooy (25)
03/04 – Arsenal – Thierry Henry (30)
04/05 – Chelsea – Frank Lampard (13)
05/06 – Chelsea – Frank Lampard (16)
06/07 – Man Utd – Cristiano Ronaldo (17)
07/08 – Man Utd – Cristiano Ronaldo (31)
08/09 – Man Utd – Cristiano Ronaldo (18)
09/10 – Chelsea – Didier Drogba (29)
10/11 – Man Utd – Dimitar Berbatov (20)
11/12 – Man City – Sergio Aguero (23)
12/13 – Man Utd – Robin Van Persie (26)
13/14 – Man City – Yaya Toure (20)
14/15 – Chelsea – Diego Costa (20)
15/16 – Leicester City – Jamie Vardy (24)
16/17 – Chelsea – Diego Costa (20)
17/18 – Man City – Sergio Aguero (21)
So, it really seams there’s something to the cliche after all. If you want to win the Premier League your top scorer needs to be hitting an average fig of 19.65. For all the Proper Football Men out there, let’s just come to a conclusion and say you need a 20+ goal a season player.
However, that figure has increased in the past ten years to 22.1 – with attacking play getting more sophisticated, more money being spent in the transfer market and a different view on what defenders and even goalkeeper should be doing on the pitch, that is hardly surprising.
If you want someone to be scoring 20-22 goals a season, a striker is usually the man to be in your favor, but it obviously doesn’t have to be.
When Chelsea won back to back titles in 2004/05 and 06, their top scorer on each occasion was midfielder Frank Lampard, with 13 and 16 goals respectively.
In the three years after Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo was his club’s top scorer in there successful three league wins, scoring 17, 31, and 18.
Since then, midfielder Yaya Toure was Manchester City’s top league scorer when they won the 2013/14 league title, and winger Mohamed Salah became the highest scoring player ever in the Premier League season with his Golden Boot win last term, though his side Liverpool didn’t win the title.
Only nine of the 26 winners in the Premier League era also won the title that same season, so it shouldn’t be rocket science to add that having a top class goal-poachers up top is an guarantee of lifting the trophy if the rest of your team isn’t quite hitting.
What would probably be a more clear statement is that most title-winning sides have shared the goals around pretty well.
Even those Arsenal that had Thierry Henry had the likes of Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg chipping in with figures or not quite off.
While Manchester United’s best side rotated up front between Vole, Yorke, Solskjaer and Sheringham in the late 90s and then Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez, Saha and Berbatov in Alex Ferguson’s next great side
Lampard scored the bulk of the goals for those Chelsea sides under Mourinho, but the likes of Gudjohnsen, Drogba, Robben and Joe Cole all contributed enough as well.
Can Hazard alone spare head Chelsea to the title?
The point we are driving at here is that if Chelsea are to really continue the awesome start to the season, it’ll probably take something super-human from Eden Hazard.
The highest goal figure the Belgian has ever scored in a single league campaign in England is 16 in 2016/17.
However, he’s already on seven in eight games this season and if anyone can get him closer to a final figure of around 26 goals it Sarri, whose playing style suits him perfectly and gives him more clear chances than he’s had in the pasts.
The problem however, is the supporting act up front just doesn’t look quite enough.
Pedro started the season very well before picking up an injury against PAOK, and his age means he might have contend with that a bit more these days.
William’s form has dipped, while Morata and Giroud, as mentioned earlier, look quite unserious dealing with the job.
Sarri have placed with N’Golo Kante in a more attacking role, and while he’s adjusted to it admirably, it’s hard to see him becoming a Frank Lampard -like player and hitting double figures from that position.
Cesc Fabregas can and has done it, but is a little over the hill now and is more suited to a deeper play-making role anyway, as are summer signings Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic.
If Sarri can lead Chelsea to the title this season, it would arguably be a real first in the Premier League era.
We have had lethal center-forwards in the prime of their careers make the difference in the title race (Alan Shearer, Robin van Persie), we’ve had outstanding goal scorers from other areas taking the lead with strikers playing more of a supporting role (Ronaldo, Lampard), but for an attacking midfielder like Hazard to be almost on his own as the main man for goals would be something as unique and exciting as has been seen in English football for some time.
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